With the approaching “Christmas Star” on the winter solstice (December 21) with Jupiter and Saturn being the closest together they have been in almost 800 years it seems like the perfect time to write about my greatest astronomical adventure which also happened to be my first solo trip with my infant daughter.
I had waited for over 10 years for this moment. During college I had taken some astronomy courses as electives and I had really enjoyed learning about outer space. After I graduated, I would still read books, visit websites, and download apps about astronomy. Most of all, I wanted to see the Great American Eclipse in August of 2017. And I wasn’t about to allow having a seven-month-old deter me from reaching this bucket list goal!
This would be my first solo travel with an infant. I wanted to keep the trip short and would only fly direct flights because I did not want the hassle of changing planes with an infant. I was also really worried about whether she would cry the entire flight annoying all the other passengers. And how would I carry all the baby equipment plus our luggage through the airport?
I scheduled our trip to leave on Saturday and return home Monday after the eclipse. Well, that is a mistake I will never make again (nothing to do with the infant and more to come later). I booked direct flights on American Airlines to Charlotte, North Carolina and then I would get a rental car to drive to Greenville, South Carolina for the eclipse. I quickly decided that I would pay to check my luggage. Prior to having a child, I almost never checked bags, but it was worth to pay the extra $25 each way so I did not have to cart them through an airport. I also decided to check my car seat (most if not all airlines do not charge to check a car seat) so I bought a carry case off of Amazon that would protect it for the trip. My daughter would be traveling as a lap infant so there was no need for a car seat on the plane. I did have to make sure to call and add her as a lap infant. This is a required part of the registration process and if you purchase air tickets online (like I do) you must call to register any lap infants ahead of time.
For the flight I made sure to pack plenty of formula and pouches to keep my baby happy on the flight. I also packed some books and some toys for her to play with (that did not make noise). I made sure to pack many changes of clothes for her, and also one for me just in case! And obviously, extra diapers and wipes (many more than I ended up needing just to be safe). I managed to fit it all in the diaper bag so all I had to cart through the airport was the stroller, diaper bag, purse, and baby. I planned to use the stroller in the airport for either my daughter to sit in or to put the diaper bag in if I had to carry my daughter and then I would gate check it.
The flight down was actually quite uneventful. I had planned well and booked an evening flight when my daughter would be going to sleep. So, I fed her formula as we took off (to help her ears) and then she fell asleep for the remainder of the flight. When we landed I put her in the stroller as I collected the rest of my items and then I headed to the rental cars.
At the rental desk I told them my name for my existing rental car registration. We went though the regular process until they gave me the agreement to sign. Even though it was late at night, I was alert enough to catch the $400 price tag listed for my 2-day midsize rental! I quickly pulled out my email from when I made the reservation 6 weeks earlier that stated a total price of $68. Due to the increased demand from the eclipse, they had raised their prices but they did honor the price from the email. Lesson learned: always carry all documentation with you. To finish out the night I checked into a hotel near the airport that I had reserved previously that had complimentary cribs available.
The next morning we made the leisurely 2 hour trip to Greenville, South Carolina. We had made a reservation at the Crowne Plaza Greenville. The prices at all the area hotels were much higher than normal because of the crowds from the eclipse so the hotel we chose was not downtown but that was okay. The hotel was certainly nice, clean and kid friendly. While it was not overly fancy it easily met our needs.
Downtown Greenville was amazing, and I wish I had more time there. It is on my list as a place I would like to revisit. The downtown is very walkable with some very nice shops (though I did not visit most of them with an infant in tow). I saw some restaurants that I would have liked to have eaten at however, I refrained for this visit because the attention span of my daughter was not long enough. The attraction that I got to visit the most was Falls Park on the Reedy. It is an oasis in the middle of the city. There is a lovely river, waterfall and bridge with picturesque views. One of the best downtown parks I have visited.
On Monday we checked out of the hotel and headed downtown to stake out a spot for the eclipse. We walked along the river for a while and found a place to set up our picnic blanket with an unobstructed view of the feature event. The partial eclipse started around 1:10. I made sure to put on my special glasses to protect my eyes from the sun and I stared with wonder. The eclipse progressed slowly so I had plenty of time to play with my daughter and she was perfectly happy to explore the grass, however about 5 minutes before the total eclipse she fell asleep so she missed the main event! One minute it was light and at 2:38 suddenly darkness with no dusk. It was surreal. Definitely a once in a lifetime event. After about 3 minutes the sun peaked out from behind the moon and it was light once again. After about 10 minutes watching the sun emerge again, we headed back to the car because we had to catch our flight out of Charlotte that night.
We left Greenville and drove about 2 miles out of the city on the interstate and the traffic stopped! And I mean stopped. It was not moving at even 10mph. It took us 30 minutes to make it half a mile to the next exit. All the other people who had witnessed the total eclipse had left at the same time as us. The 2-hour trip was going to take much longer, and we had an 8:14 flight to catch. I had google maps open on my phone and I got off the interstate and started driving. I got on one of the state highways. And that started to back up also. Each traffic light was taking 5 light cycles to get through. So, I jumped off those roads and headed to even smaller back roads with an average speed limit of 30 mph. Finally, once in North Carolina I was able to get back on the highway to finish the trip. My 2-hour trip had taken 4 hours and while I was on time for my flight it was VERY stressful. Somehow my daughter had slept the ENTIRE 4-hour drive! I will never again book a flight on the same day as an event such as this.
The flight home was uneventful once I was on the plane. The airline had indicated that the flight was full, however there were MANY open seats on the plane, so I wonder how many people had the same traffic issues that I ran into. All in all, it was a great trip and having an infant did not impact my ability to enjoy the eclipse, however I will always plan an extra day when traveling. And I can’t wait to visit Greenville again.